x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Minister's vow to Air India crash families

An aviation official said he would expedite the compensation process for the Air India crash victims' families.

India’s civil aviation minister, Vayalar Ravi, says he will pressure the insurance companies to “settle immediately”.
India’s civil aviation minister, Vayalar Ravi, says he will pressure the insurance companies to “settle immediately”.

DUBAI // Almost a year after 158 people died in an Air India Express crash, the Indian civil aviation minister yesterday promised to "expedite" the compensation process for the victims' families.

However, relatives of many of the victims aboard the Dubai to Mangalore flight, which crashed on May 22 of last year while attempting to land, expressed anger at what they say is the ongoing apathy of the Indian authorities in processing payments.

"We have had several discussions on this and have also met with the relatives of the victims," said Vayalar Ravi, India's civil aviation minister, during a press conference in Dubai to announce the launch of an Air India Express base in the UAE. Air India Express is the low-cost arm of the government-owned Air India airline.

"We are discussing with the lawyers on how to expedite the issue. We want to settle this at the earliest opportunity and help the relatives get the maximum benefit," he said. "It has already been pending for too long."

He blamed the delay on an ongoing court case filed earlier this year in the Kerala High Court, which he said was hampering the insurance company's efforts.

"We want some kind of ruling from the high court because this cannot be pending for so long," Mr Ravi said. "My intention is to push this matter and pressure the insurance company to settle immediately," he added.

He did not, however, specify a time frame for the process.

Families of those killed in the crash said the delays had prolonged their suffering.

"It's the worst kind of hell, it's really frustrating," said Shafqat Mahamood, 31, who lost his wife, eight-month-old son and two aunts in the crash.

"First, we lost our family," he said. "That is painful, and now we have to keep asking them about money. I've completely lost hope, I feel like suing them."

Relatives said they had not received any information from Mr Ravi after an open meeting he held with families this January, where he promised to look into compensation complaints and respond within a week.

"We have heard nothing from him or Air India," said Mr Mahamood, an IT manager based in Dubai. "We waited a week, then thought it would take a month, now it's almost a year. He has come to Dubai and not even met us. The least he can do is tell us what the situation is."

Air India has paid each of the families one million Indian rupees (Dh82,900) as interim compensation. It has also appointed a Mumbai-based law firm to handle final compensation amounts on an individual basis with families.

"We are not greedy, we just want our rights," said Abdul Rahman, 50, who lost his wife and nine-year-old son in the crash.

"Some people have lost breadwinners, how do they survive? They are bargaining with the bodies of people who have died. No one wants to run behind them, they should just decide and distribute the compensation."

MG Pushpakaran, the chairman of an action council formed to help families in the UAE, yesterday handed a letter to the minister highlighting concerns regarding compensation. Fifty four of the victims were from the UAE.

Flight AIX 812 overshot the table-top runway in Mangalore while landing and fell into a forest below. Only eight people survived. Investigation reports leaked to the Indian media blamed pilot error.

Mr Ravi yesterday declined to comment on the investigation, saying the report would be made public soon.

Announcing the launch of a new base in the Emirates, Indian government authorities said the UAE would soon become an operational base for stationing aircraft, pilots, cabin crew and maintenance staff of Air India.

More flights would be planned from Dubai and the region to India and elsewhere, once the base commences operations within the next month.

Arvind Jadhav, the Air India chairman and managing director, said the new facility would offer "better connectivity and improved customer services" to Indian expatriates in the UAE and the Gulf.

Officials also announced a reversal of a recent increase in the cost of transporting patients on stretchers aboard Air India. The fee had increased from Dh 3,500 to Dh 17,500, but the decision was reversed following complaints from passengers.